The Invisible Wo-Man

Your giving should be in secret. Then your Father Who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, go into a room by yourself. After you have shut the door, pray to your Father Who is in secret. Then your Father Who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew6:4-6NLV

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 1Thessalonians5:12ERV

Do you remember watching “The Invisible Man” on TV when you were young? It was compulsive viewing because although you knew the tell tale signs he would leave behind, you were never sure where he was unless he had wound the white roll of bandages around his body, or the vase would make its way through mid air to crash over the unsuspecting villain’s head.

I found myself asking the question recently, “are there any invisible men or women in the church”? In fact, in my church? Apparently there are times our secrecy is needed, but other times when the secrecy of the invisible man or woman is not acceptable to our Saviour. We are usually quite good at praying or giving in secret, and not boasting about it, but what of  the other times mentioned in the verse above when we are told to acknowledge those … among you? And what does the Lord tell us to do?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John13:34NIV

We have a command, straight from Jesus Himself to love each other, just as He loved us! That my friends is real love, and very visibly public. It is how the world knows for certain that we are Jesus’ followers. When we love one another, we cannot hide it so in that context, there should be no invisible men or women in any fellowship. Sadly though, this is not the case, and we do have invisible people in our churches. Yes, even in my church.

That new wee family that have recently started to come, and sit at the back. Who are they? What are their names? The small, frail, elderly lady who sometimes can come when she is strong enough? Where does she live, and how does she get to church? The man who is looking for a church to settle in and sits over at the end of the row, have you talked to him? Would anyone think about phoning any of them, dropping them a card, or even paying them a visit? These folks are examples of the invisible men and women, and they are in our churches. We should have no invisible people especially in church. I wonder how I would know this?

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Silence

O LORD, you are my rock of safety. Please help me; don’t refuse to answer me. For if you are silent, I might as well give up and die. Psalm28:1NLT

Silence is suspicious! Ask any parent who suddenly notices that the playful laughter and giggles of their little treasures stop, followed by silence. More often than not, it means they have found something to do that would not be liked by mum and dad. Silence is suspicious. Ask the person who is awakened from a deep sleep by the eerie sound of silence as their house is violated by a cat burglar. Yes, silence is suspicious and unhealthy.

We too become silent at times, but ask yourself when that is most likely to happen? I can see two possibilities at least. One, when a usually down and negative person who talks a lot about all his overstated medical ailments, has come to realise that s/he really IS ill this time so nothing constructive can be added or contrived, so silence is their only way out to save face. And Two, which I think more likely, is the silence of someone who has been hurt in some way by friends or trusted colleagues, but due to a sense of misplaced loyalty cannot, and will not, speak out against them. The realisation that they may not be all that s/he had thought is just too much to bear, so the obvious response becomes a retreated silence. The trouble now is that any underlying issue cannot and will not be addressed.

When your normally upbeat and talkative friend goes quiet, ask yourself why, then do the best and most helpful thing you possibly can. Draw alongside to let them know you are here for them, and most of all, you care. You may never know in this life the good you have done, but be assured, your friend will know. A parting thought because the opposite holds true too: If you, or no one else, comes alongside for them, that has an equal and opposite effect on your friend.

We must not get tired of doing good. We will receive our harvest of eternal life at the right time. We must not give up. When we have the opportunity to do good to anyone, we should do it. But we should give special attention to those who are in the family of believers. Galatians6:9-10ERV

Negotiating With God

Then Abraham said, “Lord, please don’t be angry with me, but let me bother you this one last time. If you find ten good people there, what will you do?” The Lord said, “If I find ten good people in the city, I will not destroy it.” The Lord finished speaking to Abraham and left. Then Abraham went back home. Genesis18:32-33ERV

Abraham’s negotiations with God didn’t end well for the patriarch. He had been hoping to run God down to one, therefore saving Sodom and Gomorrah from disaster. Abraham must have thought he was onto a good thing, after all he started this ‘deal’ with God at fifty good people and got all the way down to ten! The arrogance that Abraham showed was breathtaking, and we can’t get our heads round it in our day and age. We wouldn’t try that today, would we? Our generation has more sense, right? A good Christian bargain with God? Never!

Wrong. Let’s think: As a parent, your shy child has a birthday party, so you pray for all her friends to come along although you know she is not the most popular girl in her class. You earnestly pray for 20 but you need to drop the number to a more realistic 10. You need £500 for your two teenagers to have a church camp holiday, but you pray again and settle for £100 because that will do. Our local church needs 10 new members and you pray accordingly, but after a while you settle for 5 because that will do. Or lastly, we desperately need several folks from church to visit the sick or make a phone call, but when God doesn’t seem to respond, we settle for just a few because that might do. In fact, we will take anyone, that’s any one person who cares enough to show Christian love and interest for that person who hasn’t made it out for some weeks, now that would be a start. Lord, are you listening?

So, yes we do bargain with God, and we do it often. More often than not, we set the bar at the level we think would hopefully be possible to satisfy our own desires, and not God’s plan. But God is gracious and will answer even our downscaled request. The real problem (at least for me)  is when we pray for some friends to come, but no one does. Not a reduced number as in the case with Abraham, but none. Nada. Zilch. Nihil. But wait, the story isn’t over yet because some good people did respond to the prayer, and in the number you had initially hoped for, so what’s the problem? Simply put, God answered through the unexpected arrival and visits (plural for good measure) of friends from another body of believers whom you now respect even more than you did before. Now what do you do? Stay in the same uncaring group, or recognise that God chose to use that other prayer sensitive, caring church group, recognising where the answer to prayer finally came from, and determine to experience more of their church fellowship? Tough call! Or is it??

Embarrassment

Have you been embarrassed recently? I mean, seriously embarrassed? I suggest that we have all suffered this indignity at some point in our lives, and survived, but it was probably a painful time. The experience is a two way street, because we can either be the source of embarrassment to others, or on the receiving end from someone who perhaps didn’t mean to cause offence. And let’s face it, in both situations embarrassment can cause offence.

There is a third way where we can be embarrassed on behalf of someone else who may, or may not, be aware of your thoughts or feelings as you try to defend them. I would suggest that this feeling on behalf of another, is the hardest type to bear. Ok, I hear you ask for an example of this third kind.

Imagine you have been an integral part of a well run medical or sports team, and you have been in that position for some years before sickness struck and you could no longer hold your position for a short time. So far so good, and I can hear you now say, well, so what? That’s life! But it’s not over yet. Keep your imagination motor running. That group of people are an important part of your life, and you don’t like to hear anyone bad-mouth them, even if it was not meant to be offensive or hurtful!

That protective attitude remains with you, even though very few (if anyone!) from your team either visits or calls, to see how you are doing. That is bad enough, and it hurts, but it really pains when someone else on the sideline asks you directly if your doctor, nurse, or coach has visited, phoned, or been in touch? It is obviously embarrassing as you try to defend them. How do you defend the indefensible after some weeks of a time lapse?

In a similar way could this be one of the reasons that we also lose some good folks from our churches? In other words, we (and I include myself in this) don’t care enough when it really matters to that hurting member? Added to that, there is a clear interest from members of another church group who really are concerned, and let you know it. Would that be enough to make you change your present team, or even your church? Ouch!

Tangled Webs

Walter Scott Quoted: O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!

In many ways deceiving someone is worse than telling them a lie. A lie can be a short, even  simple deviation from truth, and as long as you have a good memory, you can get away with it for a long time before being found out. Deceit however takes effort and time to build up a new and different picture which might have a basis of truth, but that kernel of truth is coated in another layer of deceit, and so it goes on with every part of the tangled web we try to weave. Let’s face it, we all know at least one person who is adept at this deliberate attempt to make themselves look better by trying to rewrite the truth to suit their own needs.

The child of God doesn’t need to fall into webs of deceit anyway, so why bring this subject up? Well, you could be forgiven for thinking the Christian is exempt, but think again. Are you always up front and clear in your speech to others? Sometimes we don’t want to tell that nice church steward how you really feel when they ask how you are doing, and that might be because you don’t have time to go into it. Or the subject is personal. Or just maybe you feel it’s none of their business. In any event what we say (yes, I do it too) can sometimes bear no resemblance to what we really feel or think. I agree that this example is not a particularly good one, and not very serious in anyone’s thinking.

Let your mind wander for a minute. No one wants to look bad to their family and friends. That’s human nature I believe, but that bit of our nature opens the door to more serious forms of deceit. The guy in church who always has it together, you know, the one who is the life of any group and knows and quotes his Bible sincerely? Is it possible that he is spinning a web of deceit, but all for good reason of course? Could he be hiding a broken relationship, marriage, or heart? It may be better for him to rise above his feelings when among friends. After all, nobody likes a moaner-groaner!

Then what about the well dressed lady who is always depressed and down, and first to tell you how bad things really are when you ask how she is doing, and she can go on a bit? Is it likely or probable that she is spinning her own web of deceit because she lost her husband just over a year ago, and doesn’t want her friends to know that she is really relieved because he was not good to her. It would look all wrong to her friends if she looked too upbeat when she should still be in mourning.

These are two very short and unlikely examples, but not impossible to understand. Now take a step back and look at yourself in the mirror. Is the person you see there, the same person that everyone else sees and knows? No, I thought not. Me neither!

Them!

[ The Golden Rule ] “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. Matthew7:12NLT

It can easily come down to a choice of ‘them’ or ‘us’ when we try to figure out where society stands on various things, but it is most obvious when we talk about ethical, or moral, and certainly faith and religious beliefs. You know how it goes. We believe this, but they believe that. They interpret the Bible that way, but we know better because we interpret it this way. See where I am coming from? Perhaps you have encountered it yourself?

If each of us treated others just the same way we would want to be treated, this would be a better world. The importance of how we deal with those who disagree with us on religious beliefs and faith cannot be overstated. If we want to be Christ-Like, there should be no finger waving or pointing. Did you or I come into the Kingdom, or see the way ahead by being shouted at, or vehemently disagreed with? Certainly not. To put it into old fashioned language, we were woo’d, softly, gently, but with the determination of a loving God. We should do the same to others.

The phrase by Mrs “Do as you would be done by” is as true now as it ever was when introduced by “The Water Babies”, and much better than her counterpart, Mrs “Be done by as you did”. The secular world recognises who they prefer, and it follows that this Golden Rule spoken by Jesus is just what we ALL need, whether IN the church or OUT. This is as much a word of challenge for me as for anyone else.

Cheers?

I had the radio on for the local news, and that was followed by a phone-in talk show. The primary subject in each program was the same. At least on the surface. Scotland has two serious medical problems in general, and they are childhood obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption. Do I need to remind you that we are just into a new year, ushered in by the party season?

The news carried the stories of families torn apart by the abuse of alcohol, usually as a result of a party. Our hospitals have to take on extra staff for A&E because they know there will be a spike in injuries, like broken bones, lacerations from knife wounds, aggression, a wife or partner bloodied by a slap or a punch causing a broken nose or jaw, and sadly children who are in fear of their dad or mum abusing them, or having been abused in some way. All of these situations are well documented on open source. The bottom line is that many people cannot be relied on to drink responsibly, but that is the slogan put out by the alcoholic drinks companies. Is there anything more laughable, embarrassing, and showing them to be the hypocrites they are?

On one hand we are advised to be sensible and responsible in the consumption of alcohol, knowing all of the dangers and risks. But on the other hand these same people change almost as soon as that first drink hits their system, and everyone suffers as a result, including themselves. It is too much to ask the drinks industry to talk the truth about the problems their products cause. Doing that would reduce their business, and all their shareholders would lose lots of money. We can’t have that now, can we? This brings me to the crux of the matter. Money. Plain and simple. So, while speaking platitudes to the consumers, they will continue to sell alcohol to whoever will buy it including the young, addicted, and vulnerable. The likelihood of any probable health benefit is a secondary consideration to profit. I don’t expect things to change anytime soon!